Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Alastair Iles

University of California-Berkeley
United States of America

I have worked with agroecological and diversified (ecosystem-based) farming policies for the last six years. I am also a founding faculty co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute.

Many other contributors – including Marcia Ishii-Eiteman from PANNA, IPES-Food, Ernesto Mendez, and Antonio Roman-Alcala – have made excellent points that I would endorse in full. I will just underscore several key considerations for the FAO to take into account.

As the IPES-Food submission says, agroecology represents a system redesign that is opposed to monoculture agriculture. Olivier de Schutter’s Special Rapporteur reports and the IPES-Food report on the transition of agroecology have made compelling cases for why agroecology is critical to sustainable, fair, and nutritious food production globally. It is unnecessary to repeat this work. What would be valuable would be to:

(1) update our knowledge of innovative ways of practicing agroecology;

(2) understand how system redesign of farms and farming landscapes can happen in diverse places and geographies; and

(3) identify how political, institutional, civic, and policy innovations can help expand agroecology use (noting that the barriers are already abundantly known),

among other important gaps.

I agree with PANNA’s argument that agroecology should not be pitted against other “alternative technologies” but should be analyzed on its own ground. It would be inappropriate and distracting to try to study technologies and innovations outside agroecological and ecosystem-based methods. Such methods have already been studied at length in numerous, influential reports from governments, international institutions, and scientific agencies. Agroecology richly deserves its own recognition as a vibrant, sustainable, collaborative agriculture. As Marcia Ishii-Eiteman says: “We strongly urge the HLPE to maintain a clear-eyed focus on agroecology, for its potentially one-of-a-kind report.”

If innovations and technologies are assessed, they must be evaluated within the agroecological principles that researchers such as Steve Gliessman, Ernesto Mendez, and Miguel Altieri, along with many agroecological farmer movements, have developed. Agroecology should not be reduced to technical measures of yield and profit; instead, agroecological performance can be measured in terms of complex adaptive systems, food sovereignty benefits, ability to endure challenging environmental conditions, and other holistic dimensions. Food sovereignty ought to be woven in throughout the analysis. At present, the terms of reference do not clearly include food sovereignty and food justice.

The evidence considered in the analysis must include the knowledge and experiences of smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples, and social movements. There is, in fact, not one agroecology – there are many agroecologies that reflect the diverse farming systems in existence across the world. To enable this to happen, the range of expertise relied on must be diverse: it should include many farmers, anthropologists, geographers, ecologists, public health, and other experts. It should not simply be agronomists, economists, and policy analysts. And farmer movements must be treated as epistemically equal to technical experts in their knowledge.

Moreover, the project team itself must reflect this diversity. As Maywa Montenegro says, “The committee should strive for a diverse cross-section of race, gender, ethnicity, faith, and class in assembling the project team – but should strive to particularly represent those who may be most vulnerable (because they live close to the land) and who have the most experience in agroecology (reflecting accumulated knowledge and practice).”

There should also be extensive, public, and open sharing of draft findings and analyses, with ample time for people from all over the world to contribute their feedback. The project team’s work should be reviewed by farmer movements, social/civic organizations, and independent agroecological researchers in particular. This approach will strengthen the value and credibility of the final product.

As a scholar working with scientific and technological developments, I strongly urge that the process of collecting and evaluating data for use must be transparent and free from undue influence from industry and governments. In my experience, allowing industry groups and governments committed to industrialized agriculture to shape the analysis of possible pathways and benefits tends to lead to impoverished outcomes that simply reinforce the status quo. The FAO can use this rare opportunity to open new space for appraising how to nourish agroecology worldwide.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide some comments.

Alastair Iles